Stars Shine at Hollywood Forever Cemetery


Audiences can enjoy classic movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. (photo courtesy of Cinespia)

From far and wide, movie buffs head to Hollywood Forever Cemetery on summer weekends to catch a well-known movie. Hosted by the Cinespia organization, the 2022 season included, among others, “Grease”, “The Birds”, “Selena”, “Back to the Future” and “Twilight”.

Participants bring blankets, baskets full of snacks and set out on the Fairbanks lawn for a cinematic moment in the heart of Tinsel Town. If they turn their head to the left, they will see the back of Paramount Field. If they wander through the cemetery plots, they’ll find the names of some of the industry’s most legendary luminaries, from Burt Reynolds to Cecil B. DeMille.

Concessions with candy, hot dogs, burgers, popcorn, coffee, soda, and spirits keep customers satiated. A photo booth, DJ, and often a dance floor encourage guests to mingle. Come early, picnic and socialize – it’s the ultimate Hollywood experience.

Cinespia founder John Wyatt said the tradition started in 2001.

“I had a film club with my friends and we were looking for places to screen,” Wyatt said. “And we had another friend working there.”

Seeing the lawn and the large wall beside it, Wyatt knew they had found the perfect place to screen a movie.

“We presented it to the cemetery and they were interested,” he said.

They chose Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller classic, “Strangers on a Train,” to kick off the event.

“There is so much Hollywood history at the cemetery. So many people have their final resting place there. So it just felt right to do something from classic cinema. Hitchcock, I think, would have liked it, knowing that his film was going to the graveyard. And, of course, Hitchcock movies always grab an audience, thrill them and scare them,” Wyatt said. The screening was a success, so they “just kept going.”

Twenty-one years later, Cinepsia has grown exponentially, occasionally venturing to other locations in the area, including the Los Angeles State Historic Park, and operating its own channel on Amazon Prime, hosting famous movies like “Paper Moon” and “Funny Girl”.

Guests attend a screening of “Point Break” at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. (photo courtesy of Cinespia)

The main event, however, remains centered on the Hollywood Forever lawn, aptly named for silent film star Douglas Fairbanks, who is buried with his son Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. next to the lawn.

The vast grassy field can be covered with people during screenings, but it’s unique in that it’s one of the few corners of the vast cemetery that isn’t overflowing with headstones and mausoleums. On a typical day, it is empty, in keeping with the wishes of its namesake.

Hollywood Forever President Tyler Cassity said that for many years the area was considered a waste of space. By the 1990s, the cemetery had gone bankrupt. Cassity led the charge to use the events as a way to generate additional revenue.

“They kind of forgot [the lawn]“, Cassity said. “And one of our concepts was that we had to keep this as a town square. And so it involved, at the beginning, trying a lot of different things. Some of them have survived as traditions like [the cemetery’s annual] Dia de los Muertos [celebration].”

This event served as a warning to the community that Hollywood Forever “wanted them in,” Cassity added.

“They hadn’t really been welcome before,” Cassity said. He added that prior to Cinespia’s involvement, there had been a few film screenings on the lawn. These were organized by Marvin Page, a longtime local filmmaker who is now buried in Hollywood Forever.

“He was a former Hollywood casting director,” Cassity explained. “He actually helped organize the first two screenings, which were for [Rudolph] Valentino. We started with silences.

Valentino, whose truncated film career ended in 1926 with his death at age 31, is another of the many film personalities counted among the inhabitants of the cemetery.

Older classics still often head to the big white wall where the movies are screened at the cemetery. In June, Cinespia paid tribute to the centenary of Judy Garland’s birth by showing “The Wizard of Oz” in the presence of Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft. Garland transferred to Hollywood Forever in 2017 after resting for several decades in New York.

“One of our main objectives [is] just showing the whole tapestry of film over the years and hopefully getting someone excited about a director or actor from the past who made great movies that still resonate today no matter who you are,” Wyatt said. “They do, and it’s real. We live in a city full of creative people, people who make movies, people who love movies, and one of the things I love about what Cinespia has become is that all those people have a place to meet. ”


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